Ministers face backlash as cancer waiting time targets are set to be dropped
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Ministers faced a backlash last night after it emerged that cancer waiting time targets will be dropped this week.
The health service says the changes will benefit patients – but campaigners warn that current performance against the indicators is ‘shockingly bad’ and described the move to axe them ‘deeply worrying’.
The commitments being ditched include the two-week urgent referral from a GP for suspected cancer and a maximum two-week wait for breast-cancer patients to see a specialist.
Health Secretary Steve Barclay is set to approve the recommendations from NHS England to cut the number of targets from ten to three, The Sunday Times reported.
Many were missed and performance dropped during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Ministers faced a backlash last night after it emerged that cancer waiting time targets will be dropped this week [File image]
Under the rules, 93 per cent of patients should see a consultant within two weeks of an urgent referral by their GP, but this has not been achieved consistently since 2018.
More than 418,000 patients waited longer than this for an appointment between October last year and June.
The NHS has set a goal of having 75 per cent of people with cancer diagnosed earlier by 2028.
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Professor Pat Price, a leading oncologist, chairman of Radiotherapy UK and co-founder of the Catch Up With Cancer campaign, said: ‘These are ominous and deeply worrying rumours.
‘It smacks of “Yes, Minister” management speak to be considering changing the targets now and blows the current “it’s all OK and we’re on the right track” narrative completely out of the water.
‘The performance against the current targets is shockingly bad and has been for many, many months now, deteriorating over years.
‘While we agree chasing too many targets can be disruptive and divert resources away from the main patient 62-day treatment target, poor performance is not as a result of how we are measuring it.
‘The clear and simple truth is that we are not investing enough in cancer treatment capacity and getting the whole cancer pathway working.
‘Without a radical new cancer plan we will just- be making some modest headway in identifying cancer patients quicker, but then adding those newly diagnosed patients to a long and potentially lethal waiting list for treatment.
‘This is a road to continuing poor outcomes including unnecessary deaths.’
Health Secretary Steve Barclay (pictured) is set to approve the recommendations from NHS England to cut the number of targets from ten to three
The NHS will now be expected to ensure 75 per cent of patients have a diagnosis or all-clear within 28 days.
There will also be a maximum 31-day wait for patients to start their first treatment and a 62-day target for treatment to begin after a GP referral.
The ambition to treat 85 per cent of patients within 62 days of a GP referral was last met in December 2015.
Wes Streeting, Labour’s shadow health secretary, accused the Government of moving the goalposts after years of failure.
He said: ‘The Conservatives have created a crisis in cancer care, leaving patients waiting dangerously long.
‘[Rishi] Sunak should focus on cutting waiting times, not cutting standards for patients.’
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